Muslim Charities, Under Scrutiny, Feel Besieged

Eight Muslim nonprofit groups under investigation by Treasury Department for ties to terrorism.

(RNS) For the staff at the Holy Land Foundation for Relief andDevelopment in Richardson, Texas, the month of Ramadan is the busiesttime of the year. It's a time when many Muslim pay their zakhat, or alms-- a charitable gift equal to 2.5 percent of their net worth and one ofthe five pillars of Islam. On Monday, Dec. 3, that meant the staff wasworking late.

"We are working long hours, from 8 in the morning to midnight justto keep up with all of the donations," said John Janney, thefoundation's assistant director for communication. "We have had to hireextra personnel to keep up. It's pretty much business as usual, thoughthere is no such thing as business as usual after Sept. 11."

All of that changed at midnight on Monday, when President GeorgeBush ordered the assets of the foundation frozen and their headquartersin Richardson was closed down, along with offices in Bridgeview, Ill.,Paterson, N.J., and San Diego. The foundation, which raised $13 millionin 2000, is accused of raising funds for the terrorist group Hamas.

"The Holy Land Foundation claims that the money it solicits goes tocare for needy Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza strip," Bush saidTuesday. "Money raised by Holy Land Foundation is used by Hamas tosupport schools that indoctrinate children to grow up to become suicidebombers."


Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill accused the Holy Land Foundation ofmasquerading as a charity, "while its primary purpose is to fund Hamas.This is not a case of one bad actor stealing from the petty-cash drawerand giving the stolen money to terrorists. This organization exists toraise money in the United States to promote terror."

Holy Land Foundation president Shukri Abu-Baker denied that thegroup has any ties to terrorism, or that it had violated any U.S. laws.A statement released by the foundation criticized the government actionsas being anti-Muslim, saying "the decision by the U.S. government toseize the charitable donations of Muslims during the holy month ofRamadan is an affront to millions of Muslim Americans who entrustcharities like ours to assist in fulfilling their religiousobligations." Another statement, from the Council on American-IslamicRelations and other U.S. Muslim organizations also criticized theactions, saying that they "could create the impression that there hasbeen a shift from a war on terrorism to an attack on Islam."

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